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Fox Agrees to Use Traffic Monitoring System : Development: The studio would face fines or the loss of building permits to carry out its expansion if car-trips exceed a set limit. Opponents reject it. 'It's ludicrous to set a fox to watch the chickens,' one says.


CENTURY CITY — Fox Studios has agreed to a traffic monitoring system that could halt its proposed expansion plan in midstream, if it brings more traffic to the studio than predicted.

Monetary penalties are also a part of the agreement, which would ensure protection for residents affected by traffic from the new development.

The first such agreement in the city was forged in November, 1990, when UCLA, a state institution not bound by city rules, voluntarily agreed to a traffic monitoring plan with teeth in it to gain support for its 15-year expansion plan. Fox is the second private company in Los Angeles to propose such a traffic limitation plan, following the lead of Nansay Corp., which is seeking to build a hotel in Westwood Village.

"There is no question this approach, which we pioneered with UCLA a few years ago, is very effective," said City Councilman Zev Yaroslavky, whose district contains both UCLA and the Fox property in Century City. "It's a sound, airtight way of doing it. "The traffic counter does not lie."

But Val Cole, president of California Country Club Homes Assn., a tract south of the studio, said members of her group don't trust the studio to properly count its traffic. "It's ludicrous to set a fox to watch the chickens," Cole said.

California Country Club Homes Assn. and neighboring Cheviot Hills Homeowners Assn. last week sued the city claiming it violated its own planning rules by not holding a public meeting on the project before allowing Fox to start the application process for a zone change. They vow to fight Fox all the way.

The studio's willingness to have a traffic monitoring system with enforcement provisions in it was contained in an application to change the Century City South Master Zoning Plan, which was released by Fox officials on Wednesday.

Under the proposal, if studio traffic exceeds whatever limit Fox and the city eventually set before the expansion is completed, the city would refuse to issue the remaining building permits. And if the car-trip limit is exceeded after construction is finished, the studio would be fined.

Traffic experts have estimated that traffic to the studio gates would more than double if the city approves the expansion plan as now proposed. Fox seeks to build a state-of-the-art entertainment production facility on its 53-acre parcel on the western edge of Century City.

The plan includes adding 771,000 square feet of office and production space, moving the Fox television network operations to Century City, and preserving 45 historically significant buildings. If approved as planned, the studio would eventually contain 1.89-million square feet of building space.

Fox has threatened to relocate outside the city if its plans to expand are thwarted.

"It's not a preferable alternative," said Fox Vice President David Handelman. But, he added, "it is certainly a possibility."

Fox's application for the master plan change proposes the creation of a "studio uses" zone. A change in zoning must be approved by the city before Fox can begin construction.

Project opponents want to stick with the current Century City South Specific Plan, under which the Fox property is zoned for condominiums. That plan would still allow Fox to remain and remodel, though not to the extent the company would like.

Fox Inc., which comprises Fox Studios and Fox Broadcasting Co., is owned by media baron Rupert Murdoch. Murdoch is now directly in charge of the company, after the surprise resignation this week of Fox Inc. Chairman Barry Diller. Handelman said the change will have no effect on the expansion plan.

Though Fox insists that it needs every bit of the space called for in the expansion plan, Yaroslavsky has repeatedly vowed that the city will insist on a reduction in the office space.

"There's a lot of office space in this proposal," Yaroslavsky said this week. "It's too much. . . . I'm a long way from being satisfied."

Yaroslavsky said the city will also cut into the the number of car trips Fox is seeking, noting that it is early in the process and negotiations with the city over the size of the project are just beginning.

A draft environmental impact report on the project is now circulating in the community. The report essentially gives the project a clean bill of health. But Yaroslavsky and Cole, the homeowner leader, said the studio has balked at revealing details of its plans, such as where buildings would be on the lot and their size, which makes it difficult to judge the project's impacts.

In the zoning-change application released Wednesday, Fox said it will monitor studio traffic four times a year. For each car over the trip limit during an evening peak traffic hour, a fine of $2,000 per year would be imposed by the city. For each car during a morning peak hour, the proposed annual fine is $1,350 per trip. The annual fine for exceeding off-peak trip limits would be $133 per car trip.

Yaroslavsky said the fines for exceeding the traffic limit must be stiff enough to hurt. "It can't be the cost of doing business."

But one of the Fox project's most outspoken opponents, Westwood community activist Laura Lake, said the proposed penalties are insufficient.

"It's a scam," she said. "That's not a meaningful penalty at all."

* YAROSLAVSKY LETTER: Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky replies to recent criticism of Fox Studio's plans to expand. See Letters. J4

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